Onstage, New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer is luscious, powerful and serene. Her calm confidence and inner beauty radiate all the way to the back of the theater. A prodigy, Jenifer won a spot in NYCB’s corps at 16, but her rise through the ranks was not without its rough patch. In 1997, suffering from burnout, Jenifer took a brief hiatus from the stage. While away, she worked as a secretary and fitness instructor, and earned a BA in English from NYC’s Fordham University (graduating summa cum laude!). But soon, the artform called her back, and she returned to NYCB full-time in 1998. DS recently asked this inspiring ballerina to write an advice-filled letter to her teenage self. We hope what she wrote resonates with you, as it has with us. – Kate Lydon
When you choose dancers whom you want to emulate, either as artists or as people, don’t feel like you have to be exactly like them. You are unique and have gifts that were given to you alone. Explore those gifts and relish them, even as you appreciate the gifts that you see in others.
You will be taught to seek perfection, and while it’s all right to strive for brilliance, no one will ever be perfect. If you feel that perfection is the only way to succeed, you will only ever feel like a failure. Focus instead on artistic interpretation, musicality and understanding technique, and remember that if you keep joy in your dancing, others will feel joy when they watch you.
Much of your time will be spent in dance studios lined with mirrors. Sometimes it will feel like all you see are the things about your appearance that you find ugly. Try not to focus on the parts of you that you hate accept those parts and discover what about yourself you find attractive. Remember that God gave you this body as your instrument, and to Him, it is beautiful.
Finally, while a great deal of your life will revolve around dance, it does not define you and is not the source of your self-esteem. There is a large and rich world out there, and you are a multifaceted individual who can get involved in many different pursuits. Continue learning about everything you can, and if you’re feeling down, help somebody else. It will make you feel better.